Gia’… Ma il problema è che voi parlate di “altri” universi come se, in fondo, quello “vero” fosse pur sempre il nostro… E invece, molto probabilmente, questo strano, assurdo mondo è… un sogno di nessuno!
Storia di Nessuno, Dylan Dog
A Crafty Excuse
Recent discussions on political art I took part in revolved around raising awareness of the position from which the artist is speaking, and the revelation of the nature of her subjectivity, and of the perspectival relationship with the category of subjectivity she is bringing into discussion. In a recently organized Chomsky-Foucault debate, which took place at Atelier 35 in Bucharest at the end of last year, the main culprit against a non-emancipatory and a loosely or not at all politically engaged art was the artist who does not problematize her real positioning, her true identitarian perspective. The message to be transmitted by the politically engaged artist was prescribed to be unambiguous and as clear as possible. The artist who does not fully comprehend and express her perspective as a political subject was deemed to be “speaking from the ether”. The artist was not allowed to speak on behalf of no one, but on the other hand the artist was thought to be speaking through the ether, devoid of medium and mediation, because she was supposed to be capable of transmitting a message straightforwardly, without the veils of mediation.
Ever since Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”, it became impossible to think that through a practice involving aesthetics one can launch medium-less messages, all the more in the art system, which deals with the structures of mediation and, through its economical organization, hinders to an even greater extent the creeping through of the message through the medium. Politically engaged art affirms that it is possible and desirable to restrict the inflections of the aesthetic experience to prefab, canned messages (symbols), reducing art to a means of transmission, a broadcasting service, instead of understanding art as a concept-percept productive activity that changes the structure of experience and thought – which is political not by merely shifting perspective but by swapping the scale altogether, which may change the very concept of perspective.
The aforementioned piece of public conversation about art and politics convinced me even more of the relevance for the local context of a Romanian translation of the “Xenofeminist Manifesto” conceived and written by the group Laboria Cuboniks. The ideas smuggled by the xenofeminists (“xeno” means foreign, alien) are radically different from the usual patterns of thought in the activist, folk political circles, which rely upon the recognizability of subjectivities, direct action, horizontalism and micro-intervention. They afford to speak as no one, to request a grand scale of action and planning, to promote rationality and universalism. The xenofeminist ideas are different from those of a feminism reduced to a critique-based emancipation, embracing alienation as productive, to such extent that feminism goes alien and artificially intelligent. They also differentiate themselves from the rigid structures of thought that oftentimes accompany art that claims to be political, by affording to take conceptual and aesthetic risks.
I intentionally cut out one single aspect from the discussion that took place at Atelier 35, omitting all other perspectives, due to the fact that the vehemence of the speaking-from-the-ether argument turned into productive language, which goes beyond acid criticism, as the remark was originally intended. I am interested in the way this initial critical intention was sabotaged by the medium, by the language through which it was expressed, and how this mediatic sabotage can be pozitivized so that speaking from the ether could become something șmecher (cunning). One example of this pozitivisation I found, among other sources, in the “Xenofeminist Manifesto”, which reclaims “the right to speak as no one in particular”. Speaking as no one in particular seems a heresy to this prescriptive type of art, which has build recipes for how to position oneself as a subjectivity in art’s mode of production. At the same time, it is equally disturbing to transform art into a broadcast mode of philosophical ideas, as appealing as these would be, therefore speaking as no one interests me more as a strategy which can be recontextualized in the artistic practice, rather than as a message in itself. Speaking about speaking as no one, someone fades until the speaking speaks on behalf of no one.
The transcendental structures, those that are common to all but which dictate and constrain what is possible, are according to Kant the species-specific a priori conditions legislating and limiting the frame of experience. On a political level, they can also be regarded as the structures that limit political action and the power to act. They are the structures that conspire on many levels (experience, intuition, language, thinking) towards a stiffening and impoverishment of the possible, towards the impossibility of recontextualizing certain strategies, and rethinking ideas about politics, aesthetics and the human. In terms of language, a very obvious example is the successful terminology of funding applications for emancipating projects, and even the academia jargon, which leads towards a type of thinking, experience, and political action reduced to formulas and recipes written by the state, corporations, and the art system. Generally, political art uses a type of language that is no different from what is required by the applications to funds aimed at communitarian art with prefab messages. This language, as a well-polished and perfect glass through which one would allegedly gaze at reality undisturbed, rules out the vagueness of a stained and muddied glass of language 2.0, whose shards cut multiple perspectives and fragment and dizzy the view and the senses. A superior language would cut itself into a gore-speaking that wastes all deadlines, and fails all funds. A language that commits such proliferating self-scissions that it ends up speaking, yelling, howling as no one in particular.
“The Xenofeminist Manifesto” is a difficult text, at times militant, almost cryptic, turning language inside out, in poetic slaloms, philosophy and slang, coded and decoded, hacking hacktivism as thought bends into a topological craze, and senses radiate pessimist neuroscience in your brain. Reactionware, Bloatware, Software, Hardware, Wetware, Alienware. The language becomes a “ware”, its fiction a truth (“wahr”), and the symbols as well as that which eludes the symbolic and representation, a commodity that circulates (“Ware”). Preempting the accusation of elitism, which is usually charged against any speculative text perturbing the map of the activist territory – and the “Xenofeminist Manifesto” is part of a larger current of re-thinking the left by embracing alienation and acceleration, being associated with the strand called left accelerationism – I will explain a few reasons why the XF manifesto, through its at times cryptic language, unintentionally perverts and deviates the very idea of manifesto. In the experiment of speaking and writing, a text may bud out of its own genre, articulating itself as itself, camouflaged in its own style, as no one is camouflaged as someone.
Disguised as a Manifesto
The etymology of the word “manifesto” (“festus” means to hit, or“struck”) reveals the epistemic violence of modernity, which prescribes a new world to replace the old one. A violence is done to human experience, so that the future manifested and unfolded by the manifesto, can become palpable, palpable with one’s own prosthetic hand („manus” means hand). The xenofeminist future is far from being palpable with human hands. The future handed in is not at hand at all, the “manus” is unmanned. Ideas of automatization and rejection of any natural and given character of nature are opposite to that of manned action. A xenofeminist manifesto fails to be a mani-festo, because the hand is being handled away by notions of xeno and alien. The hand alienates itself from the body, the writing alienates itself from the hand, language alienates itself from communication, the manifest alienates itself from itself, writing without hands, as itself, as no one.
If the xenofeminists align themselves with rationality and rationalism, and embrace the abstract, they embrace an epistemic violence, a violence unmanned. And if the abstract is a reduction or a cutting of nature into shreds – concepts – with the blade of thought, the xenofeminists embrace an internal mutilation, something that gives you headaches, makes you abandon the text, or gets on your nerves really hard. But this one is a productive mutilation and irritation that guards one against the greater mutilation and irritation of stiff thinking. The xenofeminist manifesto cannot be easy on thought, as it wants to untie the shackles of standard intuition one after the other, ring after ring, zero after zero (0, 00, 000, …). The density of its zeros that have lost the ones, the female auto-productive void, produces a “violence inside that protects us from the violence outside” (Patricia Reed). A xenofeminist manifesto can only be violent to itself, and ambiguous with genres. Speaking from such a broad curve or panopticon of subjectivities, it bends the line of perspectives into the ring of horizon, from which one can only speak as no one and of all.
The manifesto starts with the subtitle “Zero”, and although the text is a plea for a rationalist, representationalist and simulationist turn in feminism, zero is, from Luce Irigaray to the cyberfeminism of Sadie Plant, that which stands for the impossibility of being represented – nonrepresentation – or the woman as zero, reduced to invisibility in the dominant patriarchal system. Rationalism is usually based on the fact that everything can be functionalized, eventually reduced to mathematical functions (functionalism), or on the more general idea that everything is representation. When confronting “Zero” with rationalism, the manifesto is unintentionally burrowing holes (0) into itself, tearing itself apart in productive doubts. The cyberfeminists have associated the woman’s position as zero, as the leader of the domain of nonrepresentation, her status as “no one”, skilled in camouflage and imitation, with the machine and cyber circuit or the matrix (Sadie Plant, “Zeros and Ones”), with the abstract sex of bacteria that have neither ego nor copyright (Luciana Parisi, “Abstract Sex”), with the abolishment of the subject in general: “Woman’s unrepresentability, her status in the specular economy as no one is grasped positively as an ‘inexhaustible aptitude for mimicry’ which makes her ’the living foundation for the whole staging of the world’” (Amy Ireland, “Black Circuit”). Isn’t that aptitude of the woman what makes feminism precisely the one who should deviate the writing hand of anyone who tries to write as someone, and humiliate any impetus of manifesting oneself through a manifesto?
If women were historically associated with role-playing, simulation, imitation, mirroring, with the matrix of the mater-womb, and the pubic weaving hiding the world from its zero, then feminism can weave the zero hiding the world – under the world is zero as is under zero. Under the woman-weaving no one creeps and nothing is. Sadie Plant anticipates at the end of the 90’s a concept of the real as a weaving of virtualizations and simulations, where perspective is a scam and truth is a trick. Matrix-mum will not mourn over simulacra, as Jean Baudrillard. Though matrix-mum probably has “Simulacra and Simulation” written by Baudrillard in 1981 on her desk (translated into Romanian by Sebastian Big, and published by Idea), issued 17 years before Sadie Plant’s “Zeroes and Ones”. The difference between Baudrillard’s approach to representation or simulation, and Sadie Plant’s, or the xenofeminist one, lies in the stance on the notions of the real and truth. While Baudrillard’s tone deplores the fact that simulation has buried the real, that fake and fiction have undermined the notion of truth, Plant sees a potential in the nonsubject as the cyber-complicator of a simulated world, born out of zero and not out of one.
While Baudrillard refers to a historical and cultural process, that of modernism, which has progressively veiled the real and truth, fueling the confusion between representation and the real, there are scientific theories saying that this confusion is productive, and that without it we are no one knowing nothing. In the studies on space and morphogenesis of the mathematician René Thom, any essentialism with regard to the notion of truth has been eliminated, since subjectivity relies on its discontinuities. In his example, the lamprey, a primitive aquatic parasitic animal, at the threshold between invertebrates and vertebrates, has to externalize its own self-image, its tongue, which imitates an image that could be taken by a prey for its own prey, in order to be able to hunt. The lamprey stops being a subject right before the moment of predation, identifying itself with the space of its prey, alienating itself from itself, losing its self, only to get it back after its prey has been devoured and incorporated into new energy. The lamprey is itself only after being outside of itself. Hunger is alienation and devouring of space, and the delusional loop of the self –not-self, self, not self, self, etc. – circumvents self-eating (Reza Negarestani). The delusion of the self appears to be the very basis of the virtualization mechanism which leads to the emergence of cognition as an “organ of alienation” (René Thom). Thom associates the cognitive evolution with the intrication of the virtualization of space. Thus, in many scientific theories, believing you are someone is a construction of evolution, and a useful trap for an efficient interaction with the environment, at the expense of the reliability on notions like the real or truth.
Simulation is, according to these theories, fundamental, generated by biological processes, while Baudrillard’s version is generated strictly by historical processes. If we look at the recent research in the philosophy of mind and neuroscience, subjective reality may be of the nature of the simulation. For example, philosopher Thomas Metzinger, in his two books “Being No-One” and “The Ego Tunnel”, and his recent studies on dreams, equates consciousness with a simulation, or a dream. The self appears as a simulation, an illusion, or a phenomenal model, and the world is accessible through a tunnel burrowed into the real, a real dangerously vast for human experience. The transcendental structures, imposing the frame of experience, are not only limiting us, but they are also sparing experience the horror of the real, what is unrepresentable through the restricted spectra of human senses. If we cannot rid ourselves of the tunnel and stay human, we can at least dig holes into in, digging cunningly, shaking its scaffolding, with a shovel of concepts that do not search the light at the end of the tunnel but unearth the “tunnel at the end of light”, as the comix Swamp-Man wisely advises.
If illusion and farce are here to stay, all you can do is to keep (mis)using them, strategically. And we can also strategize with șmecheria (the cunningness) of the Romanian manele music, with Ștefan Tiron’s hyperdense pulp conceptualism, with the local Bezna [consistent darkness+diffuse fear], with Charlie Blake and Blake Victor’s hypostition, or CCRU’s hyperstition, who write theory-fiction and engineer concepts because “nothing is true and everything is permitted”(Cybernetic Culture Research Unit – CCRU). The complexification of the generalized ruse will do away with any essentialist idea on subjectivity and the human. No one will understand when we will pass beyond, into the out, where full automation will run a world-without-us, as in “Dimension X”, the radio show from 1950, in the episode “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury. Past the threshold, no one is left to hear a female voice from the past chanting each morning Sara Teasdale’s poem from 1920: “No one will mind, neither bird nor tree, If mankind perished utterly”. Until then, how to feint capitalism without nostalgically going back to notions of truth and the real, without critique and opposition, but through a dynamization of ruses, through an instrumentalization of the simulacra, by setting up traps, and unleashing the “zero”? Like the lamprey, we play the trick again, first not to self-eat, then to cannibalize worlds.
No one Speaks
Afrofuturism reclaims the black subjectivity in a cunning manner, taking as constitutive of the Afro-American (or Brazilian, etc.) subject her primary condition of alienation, being the first animated commodity displaced and transported on slaves ships through the Middle Passage to Europe, America and the sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean islands. This condition is radicalized so much so that the black subjectivity reconceptualizes itself as an avant-garde, alien subjectivity, as the space and thought pioneers taking concepts and senses to the limits of the unknown, out into the deep black (bezna) of cosmos. In the same manner, feminists have radicalized their female condition, as being the no one, the zero, the one outside the symbolic order that historically mattered, the one who imitates, simulates, mimics, and echoes rather than speaks, repeats rather than expresses. If the female has been reduced to the zero of nonrepresentation, she can raise herself to the condition of the zero, to the heights of the non-subject. Half-synthetic, half-human, as she appears in the poster for the TV series “Humans” (2015), the no-one-robot that breached the second protocol forbidding self-modification, as in Gabe Ibanez’s film “Automata” (2014), or as a replicunt, in Sadie Plant’s concept engineering. Feminism is the one who can afford to cunningly give up the subject, as Sadie Plant was suggesting in her essay “Cyberfeminist Simulations”, following Luce Irigaray: “If ‘any theory of the subject will always have been appropriated by the masculine’ (Irigaray, 1958a:133) before the women can get close to it, only the destruction of this subject will suffice”. In feminism’s radical renunciation, feminism loses its name, feminism, and its identity. No-one-ism.
The canceling out of the subject and the process of alienation are tightly connected to each other, and neither of these have anything in common with essentialism or the natural, but rather with epistemic artificiality, a mutilation, and a natural that is not fixed (as in Kant) in transcendental structures, but constantly bringing itself over the brink. Following an Irish MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, Conor McGregor, who uses a parasitic mode of wrestling, we can say: “I have no strategy. If I had a strategy, I would lose.” Not having a strategy and not being recognizable, a disaster for an artistic career, is a way of “creating a fog around yourself” (Carlos Castaneda), around one’s subjectivity, and implicitly around one’s unique perspective. Shifting between strategies, one becomes multiperspectivist instead of affording a single central perspective, like that of the false universalism promoted by the single European white masculine eye. Shifting the scale, one becomes no one. If you are no one, you are not localized, you are like Ann Lee, the manga character designed by a private Japanese studio and bought by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe as a bot-performer, devoid of pupils, outside of the range of iris-scan detection, a shell without ghost. Better Ann Lee before entering contemporary art rather than Wonder Woman, zero rather than one, mirror rather than real, echo rather than sound, no one rather than someone.
Alina Popa navigates between contemporary dance and visual arts, the black box and the white cube, philosophy and text. She founded Unsorcery together with Florin Flueras in 2012, and The Bureau of Me...